Saturday, March 24, 2012

Con-ga! or, Top O' The Mornin'!

Last Saturday was St Patrick’s Day.  And what do we all think of on St Patrick’s Day?

Why, the Portobello Conga festival, of course!  And my apologies to the Irish among you, but it beat the heck out of drinking green beer.

Sorry, Seamus.  You just can't compete.

 The whole town was dressed up.

Squee!  Cuteness overload!
Busloads of conga troupes arrived.

No, they didn't paint that bus for the festival...
The buses always look like that.
As at any good outdoor party, street-meat was the order of the day.

Mnohm nohm nohm.
The party began with a boat tour around the harbour.

Then the troupes danced their way from the dock to the town square.

(And if you can’t appreciate the delicious illumination of human nature as illustrated by a woman flipping off her friend while marching in a parade, I just don’t want to know you.)

Even the cops couldn’t resist taking pictures.
Even the police need to get their conga on.
Sure, everyone got a little distracted now and again.

We interrupt this parade for an urgent text message.

Can’t.  Sit.  Still!
But they all pulled it together.  Each troupe got to strut their stuff on stage, and they were fantastic.

I wish we knew more about the symbolism of their outfits; the fertility symbols were pretty easy to figure out, but the dolls hanging from everyone’s clothing made me curious.  There were also a couple of men dressed as construction workers - orange pinnies, hard hats – and that really has me stumped, since the rest of the men onstage appeared to be kings or devils.  Where does the dressed-for-safety builder fit into this mythology?  On a similar note, I saw one of the off-duty kings step on part of a broken bottle.  He stopped, reached into his decorated bag, and pulled out a large black telephone receiver which he used to knock the offending glass off his Croc.  And while I applaud this creative repurposing of a now-useless device, I ask you: do you carry old-timey phone parts in your purse?  Because I don’t.  These fashion trends are passing me by.
Used as the manufacturer intended.
Eventually the rain came, and it was time to go home, happy and full.
When even the queens are hiding under superhero blankets, the party’s over.
Best.  St Patrick’s.  Ever.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sewing and other occupations

This week has been a series of dizzying highs and terrifying lows for Papillon as we float here in Portobello and the howler monkeys bellow through the hills.  The good: Stylish writing notes to the family in Cuneiform.  I asked Stylish to tell Erik what we had been talking about in school that day, and Indy burst out: “Hammurabi!  Babylon!”  The bad: I came within a hair’s breadth of permanently breaking the generator.  (Who knew that water + diesel engines = apocalypse?  I guess I kind of forgot.  I have been sentenced to learn and internalize the diesel engine chapter of Calder’s Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual.  It is going to be a slog, but I suspect I got off easily.)

At least I wasn’t in front of that cannon.
But let’s take a step back in time and talk some more about the San Blas islands.  We did more than read and dig sandcastles, you know.  Oh, yes!  We also bought molas.

For those of you unfamiliar with Panama, Kuna Yala is an autonomous province east of the canal on the Caribbean side, and the San Blas are a part of it.  The Kuna Indians live there.  And while their old way of life is slowly falling away, the Kuna still make reverse appliqué fabric art pieces called molas.  This involves many layers of fabric, tight stitching, and obvious artistic flair.

These are normally worn by the ladies as a panel above the waist on the front and back of a blouse.

And, inevitably, some are sold to gringo tourists.

My mother is a quilter.  No, a Quilter.  Perhaps even a QUILTER.  In short, she sews any bit of fabric she finds that isn’t otherwise occupied, as well as some that are.  She attends a quilting camp with her buddies for two weeks every summer, learning fancy sewing stuff from other experts.  It’s like that.  So Mom had molas on the brain before she even arrived.

I knew that was coming.  What I didn’t expect was Erik’s interest.

We arrived in the San Blas about a week before my parents.  From the first day, the cayucas were padding up to our boat, and the ladies showing off their wares.  Normally, the ladies would have a five gallon pail neatly filled with molas.  We would invite them aboard, they would show us their stuff, we would get excited about a piece or two, buy them, and everyone left happy.

Except this was happening every day.  By the third round, the cayuca arrived, and I said to Erik, “No, we have enough.  No thank you.”  “Okay,” he nodded, then invited the ladies aboard and bought a mola anyway.  Ugh.

It only got worse when mom arrived.  Some of the master mola-makers came out of the woodwork, and who were we to decline the chance to see their wares?  And some of their traditional pieces were truly beautiful.

By the end of my parents’ visit, we were all getting strict with each other.  “No more molas.  No really, no more.”  Then we went for dinner with a family on Miriadiadup.  And while some people were focused on the right things, like making friends and seeing birds...

Priorities straight.
...some of us looked at molas.

Hey, look!  Molas!

By the time my parents departed, we had accumulated a dizzying number of pieces.  Sure, some were gifts, but most of them were just too pretty to pass up.  If you ever visit the future Casa Schaefer and find a room covered in fabric, that’s why.

This was our combined total.  And I wish I could say they are almost all Mom’s, but a lot are ours, too.

I know, I know.

My parents went home with all of the molas, so they don’t rot on board.  Phew!  Mola-free.  We got ready to check out of the San Blas, when master mola maker Lisa knocked on our hull.


Two more molas.

How could I refuse?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

What We Do On Holiday

So.  What did we handsome devils do during our vacation in the San Blas?
A fine-looking group.
We tried to keep Papillon off the reefs...

Saw turtles and fish...

Played on the beach...

Bought food out of passing lanchas...

Loafed in the hammock...

And read and read and read.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bread, Glorious Bread

Continued apologies for my infrequent posts. My parents were visiting, we still don't have internet... it's the same old story. It has been a busy day, what with setting up the awning and putting out the spinnaker pole for the girls so they can swing into the water. Whew! I'm bushed.

We have moved closer to the Panama Canal, awaiting our appointment to haul the boat out and repaint the antifouling on the bottom of the hull. This means we have left the palm trees and sandy beaches of Kuna Yala behind. It also means that we can restock on supplies. This is important because we haven't bought food except from local fishermen since we left Cartagena a month ago. And my parents gave us a breadmaker.

Ta da!

Back home, we were bread eaters. Toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch. I liked a certain brand of fancy multigrain. Erik and the girls liked proper German graubrot. The stuff we bought was bakery-fresh, and worth every cent. Alas, as with all things, availability and quality have been less than consistent as we pressed south. Sometimes we got lucky and found an awesome baker (mmm, Guatemala). Sometimes we were stuck with the local Wonderbread equivalent (country withheld). But wherever we went, two-thirds of our freezer space went to bread storage, insurance against dark days we knew were to come.

Over time, I learned to make my own bread (occasionally) and pizza dough (more often). We made cookies and bread balls and pancakes, and generally compensated for our uncertain bread supply. So, when my parents offered us a breadmaker, I was delighted. Fresh bread! More freezer space for meat and other perishables! When I did my month-long provisioning run before we left Colombia, I decided to be conservative and buy extra flour in anticipation of the new machine. We had four pounds of flour on hand, and I bought another thirteen. Seventeen pounds of flour - it seemed ridiculously generous. It was going to turn into a weevil hotel before we could ever use it all up.

Loaf 1.0
 When the machine arrived, we were like kids at Christmas. Make cinnamon raisin bread! Olive bread! Try the Firm setting! Bake a chocolate cake! Make pizza dough! And we did. We ran through that recipe book like we'd never eaten starch before, cooking two and sometimes three loaves of delicious bread each day. We set the timer to have it ready just before breakfast, and usually had the machine refilled for a second run before the elements had cooled. We gorged. Our bellies became - pardon the expression - doughier. And my flour stocks dwindled.

My parents had only been with us for a week when I realized we were going to run out of flour. I calculated that we had enough flour for one loaf per day until they left - no more. No more cakes. No more oven-fresh thick slices. The rationing began.

We barely made it through the week. Erik miraculously found a further four pounds of flour in Carti when he dropped my parents off. Hooray! But still, two passengers lighter, we were still careful with our bread. Who knew when we would find flour again?

We sailed to Portobello, rejoining the world of towns and stores. We stopped into a mini-super (a term I love), aka a store the size of my old living room. And they had flour. And I bought seven pounds. That should last the week, shouldn't it? Hooray for bread! Flabby tummies, be damned!